One of the things you notice about David Attenborough is his enthusiasm. Wherever we travel are lines of people to meet him
‘One of the things you notice about David Attenborough is his enthusiasm. Wherever we travel are lines of people to meet him,’ says his producer, Anthony Geffen (pictured below)
AFTER NEARLY A year filming our new series, Micro Monsters 3D, we’re now in the final days of shooting at Park Royal Studios on the edge of London in a purpose-built rainforest. Amid the foliage, the world’s most famous naturalist, David Attenborough, is standing with a large Goliath beetle on his shirt, explaining how the males fight each other, using a special horn they have, for the right to mate with females.
On the other side of where David is standing is a great bank of the latest filming technology, known in the business as 5K-3D. This is, quite simply, very high-resolution 3D, and it’s this that Peter Jackson used in The Hobbit.
‘I have been amazed at how much we’ve been able to do,’ says David. ‘Filming in 3D is a very different matter from just peeping about with one little camera. In many ways you might worry that the technology would get between you and the best behaviour of the animals. But it’s not proved that way. We’ve managed to film everything that we’ve set out to film.’
Quite an Evolution
David started filming 60 years ago in black and white. In the Seventies he moved to colour, and at the beginning of the century to high definition. Now 87 years old, he remains at the forefront of broadcast technology and is filming in the latest iteration of 3D.
I’ve been lucky enough to partner with him on all his 3D projects for Sky 3D, which have taken us around the world in the past four years.
We’ve journeyed to Arizona in search of pterosaurs for Flying Monsters 3D; to the Antarctic and South Georgia for a film about an adolescent penguin called The Penguin King (due to be released in cinemas next year); to Kew Gardens for The Kingdom of Plants; and to Ecuador for Galapagos 3D.
David is continually looking for new ways to bring the natural world to an audience. On the set of Micro Monsters 3D, we have an extraordinary, newly designed 3D camera unit, smaller than the other technology, which allows us to get even closer to all the insects, revealing them in detail of tremendous clarity and depth of field.
It does this unusually for 3D by using a single lens which can get very close to the subject, and then splitting the image through a cube, a specially built so-called ‘cube rig’, which creates separate images for the viewer’s left and right eye.
David is utterly fascinated by what this new equipment can do and is constantly talking to the camera team about every detail of each lens and about what we can push it to do.
‘The wonderful thing about 3D in macro work,’ he says, ‘is that you suddenly see even the most familiar things in a new way. You may think you know something about ants or termites, you may think you know something about scorpions or dragonflies, but I guarantee that when you see it on 3D or even just on a small screen, you will see it in a new way.’
Our only challenge is when some of the insects decide to hide down small holes, or spiders wander off their webs, and we can no longer see them.
Our main camera unit is still pretty vast, and it takes about three people just to move it and up to twelve people to operate it. But this new smaller equipment only needs three to operate it, so it’s been fantastic on location, as we’ve filmed from Australia to Africa and back to Europe.
We have been able to film some of the most extraordinary things: from armies of killer ants to spiders weaving silken trap doors, ferocious scorpions with paralysing stings, beetles shooting boiling chemicals at their enemies, bees communicating with their waggle dance and assassin bugs that clothe themselves in victims’ corpses. Again David is taking us into a whole new world.
David Attenborough is taking us into a whole new world with his latest documentary, Micro Monsters 3D
The Star of David
One of the things one notices when working with David is his ferocious enthusiasm. Wherever we travel in the world there are lines of people wanting to meet him, clutching copies of his books and DVDs to be signed.
When we were working in China earlier this year, I thought maybe we had found a place where he would be relatively anonymous. I was wrong. Across China, people knew and revered David and were desperate to meet him. When we went on the state TV news programme, hundreds of millions watched.
David is also a keen advocate of taking content from our 3D films to other platforms. We built an iPad app to accompany the Kew series, and we have cut 40-minute versions of many of the 3D projects for Imax and giant screen cinemas which are now playing in over 50 countries. The 3D market is still in its infancy, so we are showing all these projects on TV in 2D as well.
We are very excited that all these projects are future-proofing David’s work, which will be enjoyed by a whole new audience, as 3D television sets and other platforms grow. David will go on enthusing generation after generation, well into the future.
Anthony Geffen is the CEO and executive producer of Atlantic Productions. He is an Emmy- and Bafta-winning film-maker who worked for the BBC for ten years before setting up Atlantic, which has become one of the largest high-end factual multi-platform production companies in the world